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Rays vs. Orioles, Game 1: David Price gets off to a slow start

Despite some incredible defensive gems by the Rays, their pitching wasn't strong enough to keep them in the game.

J. Meric

After spending months waiting for baseball to come back -- months following the tedium of the off-season and then the mind-numbing-ness of Spring Training -- the day finally arrived. The season is here. The Tampa Bay Rays are officially back in action, and well, it didn't take long for the preseason optimism to wash off.

A mere three innings into today's game, it became pretty obvious that we should get ready for another season of up-and-down frustration with the Rays' offense. This should come as any sort of surprise, considering the Rays lost a big bat this off-season in B.J. Upton and they didn't make any substantial changes to the offense, but I still find a way to fool myself each and every preseason. Maybe this year will be different! Maybe everyone will click at once, and the offense will no longer be a source of deep sighs and patchy hair. Or...maybe not.

The Rays were held to a mere six hits and one walk through today's game, as Jason Hammel pitched a serviceable six innings (6 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) and the Orioles' bullpen was as dominant as last year. Ben Zobrist put them on the scoreboard in the fourth inning with a solo homerun to right field, and the Rays were able to scrape together a few more runs in the sixth inning and one in the eighth, but it was far from a dominant offensive performance. The majority of the lineup looked pretty weak, in fact; there was a lot of swinging at the first pitch, and there were far too many at bats for my liking that were a mere two to three pitches.

But still, four runs could have been enough if the Rays had received better pitching performances from David Price and Jake McGee. Price looked...well, he looked like it was his first start of the season. His velocity was looked good at the beginning of the game, and he was pumping his fastball up to 95-96 MPH in the first inning. After that, though? While he still hit 94 MPH a bunch, his velocity didn't peak as high again, and it slowly tailed off over the remainder of the game. His four-seam fastball still averaged 94 MPH -- compared to a 96 MPH last year -- and his two-seam fastball averaged 92 MPH, well below what he was doing last season (96 MPH). As such, he only had a meager seven swinging strikes on the whole night.

Of course, it's early. It's not a large decline, and it's not something to worry about yet (unlike, say, C.C. Sabathia's velocity drop). But with a lower velocity, Price was going to be more hit-able unless he was mixing his pitches or hitting his spots with deadly precision, and that was far from the case. Price still threw 73% fastballs (the vast majority of which were four-seamers), and he left a number of pitches up and over the plate.

And even then, when Price left the game, he was on record for the Win if the Rays bullpen held the Orioles scoreless. That did not happen.

I like Jake McGee a lot. He's a dominant set-up man, and he's likely going to be one of the best relievers in the Rays bullpen this year. But oy, what a start to the season. Four hits, five runs, and one moonblast of a homer.

To be fair, McGee has struggled to some degree at the beginning of both of the last two seasons. We're talking only a handful of innings in both cases, but April has historically been his worst month in runs allowed and hits against. And after watching his struggles today, maybe we shouldn't be expecting him to come out of spring training at 100%?

After McGee did his damage, that was about it. The Rays made a game try at getting something going in the eighth, but they could only manage one run. You win some, you lose some, so here's looking forward to 161 more chances at a "W".

  • On the positive side, the Rays defense is already shining. The Rays made a ton of amazing plays in today's game, including a sliding catch by Sam Fuld and two Web Gems in back-to-back plays from Evan Longoria. I also liked what I saw in limited action from James Loney, who made a number of scoops off the turf.
  • Desmond Jennings was one of the Rays' lone offensive bright spots on the day. He went two for four with a double and a stolen base, and his two outs were both hard hit balls to the warning track. He was ripping the ball all day long, and he worked some nice deep counts. It is just one day, but those are both encouraging signs to see.